LOS ANGELES — Jamie Foxx is a hero, an idol, an inspiration to a guy like Eric Bishop.
Foxx is the former “In Living Color” comic making his dramatic breakthrough this year with “Collateral,” opposite Tom Cruise, and “Ray,” in which he steps behind the dark glasses and glorious smile of the late legend Ray Charles.
Eric Bishop is Jamie Foxx’s real name.
“Jamie Foxx is the Superman, and Eric Bishop is the Clark Kent,” the 36-year-old actor replied, smiling as if he was conveying the coolest secret in the world.
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Bishop was the kid from Terrell, Texas, who dreamed of being a star. It almost didn’t matter what kind of star: singer, actor, comedian, athlete. The high school football player was good at all those things.
But Jamie Foxx, the one sitting in his luxury bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with two solid gold dog tags lined with diamonds hanging from his neck, is the one who made it happen.
He’s the brash, clever, ambitious alter-ego who wasn’t content to rely on luck. He wasn’t even content to rely on his natural talent, at least when it came to getting noticed.
Jamie Foxx is the trick name that got him noticed during an open mic night at a club in the early 1990s.
“I wrote down all these unisex names at this comedy place because they would always choose the girls to go up,” Foxx recalled. “They picked randomly from a list. So I wrote down Stacy King, Tracy Brown, Jamie Foxx ... And they picked Jamie Foxx. I go up, had a great night and that’s how the name stuck.”
Foxx is notable for being one of the few comics to make a transition from slapstick to serious, and his career has more than a few similarities to that of Tom Hanks.
Both made their breakthroughs dressing in drag (Hanks in the sitcom “Bosom Buddies,” Foxx as ugly Wanda on “In Living Color”), and made their share of lowbrow sex comedies (Hanks in “Bachelor Party,” Foxx in “Booty Call”) before going respectable.
Foxx says he made the switch by making good impressions on the right people.
Oliver Stone gave him his first dramatic role as a football star in 1999’s “Any Given Sunday.” When director Michael Mann was casting “Ali,” he took Will Smith’s advice and cast Foxx as Bundini Brown, Muhammad Ali’s manager.
Making an impression on directors
Foxx recounts his casting experience with dead-on impressions of his directors and fellow actors.
He reteamed with Mann for “Collateral,” playing a cab driver named Max, who through a cascade of bad luck is forced by Cruise’s assassin to drive him around Los Angeles for a string of late-night murders.
“He’s the realist, sort of the nerd, the square guy,” Foxx said. Max doesn’t necessarily want to be a hero. “He just wants it all to go away.”
But the story reveals Max as more than just “reluctant accomplice”: he’s a man with failed dreams — his own high-class limo service, a vacation to a tropical isle — who talks big but never made it happen, and probably never will.
He is, in other words, the exact opposite of Jamie Foxx.
“I’m a go-getter, I’m a horse, I’m a dog,” the actor said. “My father was a coach in high school so my whole mentality is all sports. ... This is the big game. If I look at a roomful of comedians, (I ask) ‘How do I get to step to the front of the line?’ Gotta be funny, I’ll find the funniest person in there and know I gotta cut his head off.”
Fear of success? Foxx never feels it, and has no pity for those who do.
“I run into a million people out here in California, ‘Man, I wanna be a singer ...’ OK, let’s sing. ... And then they give you some excuse. The realization of ‘I may not be able to make it to that dream’ allows you to keep dreaming.”
Which brings things back to Eric Bishop ... Does he ever go back to his old self, the quiet, reserved Texas dreamer?
Not much. But sometimes.
“Eric Bishop is a little more way private, when I’m somewhere with my friends, my friends from Texas. They’ll say ‘Eric Bishop,’ even though I’m Jamie Foxx now,” Foxx said. “The kids who were older than me or whatever, still kind of dominate a little bit — I let them at least THINK that.”
These days his friends are more like his co-star Cruise, possibly the world’s most famous leading man, who hangs out at Foxx’s parties, was inseparable from him backstage at the MTV Movie Awards and perpetually nags Foxx for a CD of his music.
Foxx compared working with Cruise to a game of tennis (evidence, again, that his whole mindset is sports-themed.)
“You watch Tom Cruise, and he hits the ball back to you,” Foxx said. “When you play tennis, there’s a rally and a rhythm . ... Here’s a guy who is at the top of the food chain and still wants to work. That means you got to burn.”
Cruising with big company
No sooner do the words leave Foxx’s lips than Cruise himself throws open the door to the darkened bungalow, grinning the famous Tom Cruise smile and asking, once again, for Foxx’s CD — which is now out of print.
“I got that stuff right here,” Fox says, gesturing toward the bedroom.
“I’m shocked,” Cruise replies — and looks it.
“Every day I’d go bang on his trailer,” Cruise said. “‘Where’s the video?’ He says, ‘Ah, I forgot ...’ Kids and everybody are telling me ‘Jamie’s got these great songs!’ ... And I say, ‘Yeah, he’s been TELLING me about it.”’
Foxx looks both embarrassed and appreciative. He released an album titled “Peep This” in 1994, but now downplays his music interests, saying the pop charts don’t have much room for his style. (He did, however, sing the hook on the smash Kanye West/Twista rap single “Slow Jamz.”)
“I wanted to do singing, but I’m glad I didn’t. The music thing isn’t cracking. R&B singers are dead. Hip-hop killed the R&B singer,” Foxx said.
He’ll get to show off some of his musical skill when “Ray” opens on Oct. 29. Although he lip-syncs to Charles’ voice, the late musician (who died after filming finished) gave him piano lessons for the role.
When asked to talk about “Ray,” Foxx barely says a word before Cruise interrupts to praise his dead-on impersonation.
“Let me tell you about ‘Ray,”’ Cruise says. “When (Foxx) came in and we met — the three of us, with Michael Mann — in about two seconds we said, ‘Hey, you’re working on ‘Ray’?’ And he just did Ray Charles. Inside and out, it wasn’t an imitation. He WAS Ray Charles. I sat back and went, ‘You’ve got to be (kidding) me.”’
Foxx grins and doesn’t say anything — just basks in the praise and waits for Cruise to finish.
With admirers like that, who needs Eric Bishop?
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